Prospect Report: Has Austin Hays Rediscovered His Potential Or Should His Strong Spring Be Ignored?

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Austin Hays wasn’t guaranteed a starting job with the Baltimore Orioles, despite once being a highly hyped prospect for a team going through a rebuild.  However he certainly has stated his case with impressive spring numbers:

.364 (12-33), 4 HR, 12 RBI, 9 R, 0 SB

He’s added 3 doubles and a triple, as he’s continued to hit the ball with authority and make a statement.  Obviously there’s a need in Baltimore’s outfield, with the tentative starters being Trey Mancini, Cedric Mullins and Joey Rickard.  Mancini should be viewed as the only “lock”, and with Mullins hitting a pathetic .152 (5-33) the opening is there.

It’s easy to forget about Hays and his potential, after he struggled upon arriving to the Majors in 2017 (.217 with 1 HR over 63 PA) as well as when he was actually on the field in 2018:

  • Low-A (39 PA) – .189, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 6 R, 0 SB
  • Double-A (288 PA) – .242, 12 HR, 43 RBI, 34 R, 6 SB

We have to keep in mind that injuries helped to limit him last season (he had a sore shoulder and a stress fracture in his ankle, which ultimately required surgery).  How big of an impact those injuries had may be obvious, especially when you look at the numbers he posted split between High-A and Double-A in 2017:

.329 (172-523), 32 HR, 95 RBI, 81 R, 5 SB

There are two red flags hanging over him, however, that can’t be answered in just a handful of at bats.

1) Has his approach changed permanently?
In their recent scouting report MLB.com noted:

While injuries robbed him of some of that explosiveness in 2018, Hays also deviated from the hit-to-all-fields mentality that had made him successful in the previous year, as he all too often sold out for pull-side power in an attempt to replicate his 2017 results.

The power he’s shown thus far this spring could ultimately prove counterproductive, if he once again is taking a home run-centric approach instead of what got him to where he is.

2) Will he make enough contact?
Even as he was thriving there was a, as he posted a 12.1% SwStr% in the minors.  Obviously the missed time last season played a role, but that number ballooned to 14.2%.  That may go hand-in-hand with the idea that he was focused more on power, but it was also an issue when he was going well and it isn’t going to suddenly disappear.

There is upside and opportunity, but is that enough?  Time will tell, and he’s well worth monitoring/stashing to see if he can put it together and figure it out.  Don’t make the assumption that he’s a lock to do so, however.  He’s high risk, high reward and as a depth option that makes sense but that’s about it.

Sources – Fangraphs, MLB.com

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